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Sanders Announces Plan to Wipe Out $1.6T in Student Debt; Mayor Pete Buttigieg Confronts Racial Tension in South Bend; First Democratic Presidential Debate on Wednesday. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 24, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Got a plan for that. Senator Bernie Sanders says it's time to erase all student loan debt.


KING: Welcome back.

Senator Bernie Sanders today announcing a bold new plan to help alleviate the stress felt by millions of American families. Senator Sanders just a short time ago unveiling legislation he says would completely forgive all student loan debt in the United States. His plan by far the most ambitious college costs proposal from a presidential candidate yet unveiled just days before the Democratic debates.

[12:35:03] Sanders proposes canceling $1.6 trillion of student loan debt for about 45 million people. His plan has noel eligibility requirements, meaning borrowers don't need to show income levels or financial need in order to erase their obligations. Senator Sanders says he'll pay for the plan with a series of taxes on Wall Street targeting stock trades, bonds, and derivatives.

This is the senator's message today. He says Wall Street should pay up, help the American middle-class.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ten years ago, the United States government bailed out Wall Street after their greed, their recklessness, and their illegal behavior drove us into the worst recession in modern history. The American people bailed out Wall Street. Now it is time for Wall Street to come to the aid of the middle-class of this country.


KING: It is bold and ambitious. Some would say it's over the top that why should somebody who makes a couple of hundred grand or a hundred grand who might need to borrow money but can afford to pay it back. What's the play here?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, he's seeing in the polls that Elizabeth Warren rising in the polls, eating into some of his core supporters. He clearly recognizes that, he's trying to figure out a way to re-energize his young supporters, people on the left, people who will power his insurgent candidacy against Hillary Clinton in 2016. This is a much different campaign that he's faced with, so he came out with a proposal to essentially one up Elizabeth Warren's, her own student loan proposal. Of course, he wants to do this before the debate.

Exactly. So -- but we'll see -- this is very difficult to see it ever becoming law, it's difficult to -- a lot of people dispute that it would only cost $1.6 trillion so that's a separate question. The real question is does this help him re-shape the debate and help him get this --

KING: Re-shape the debate in advance since the debates if you will and you're seeing a new whole number of issues. Democratic candidates putting out policy proposals this week so they have something to say on the debate stage. Which makes perfect sense, I prosed this, what do you say? I proposed that.

Let me play contrarian for a second here. In Washington, the conversation is, Sanders is struggling, we can show you some poll numbers. Back in March, he was at 25 percent in the Monmouth University poll nationally. He is down to 14 percent now.

If you look deeper into the polls, Elizabeth Warren is catching him or passing him among voters who describe themselves as more liberal. So, you know, the conversation in Washington will be, candidates struggling on the eve of the debates come up with this, you know, Hail Mary big program. Out in America, might it be received that to Senator Sanders' point, you know, 10 years ago, they bailed out the banks, they bailed out the car companies, you know what, if they're going to have bailouts, it might as well be me.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes, it's a powerful message and the policy that lets him provide that message. You know, it's hard to imagine a lot of voters getting too far down in the weeds on what this policy is. And, you know, you can criticize Sanders' policy saying should people over $250,000 really be getting breaks which are where Warren caps it at. But when you dig deeper into the policy, the Brookings Institution did an analysis for the Wall Street Journal, most of the money goes to the highest earners when you give breaks to everybody. And in large part, because people with the highest debt are graduate degrees are largely the highest earners. So there are some complications when you get into that policy, but what Sanders says, put out here today, it does give him what seems to be right in his wheelhouse and a potentially powerful message with Democrats.

KING: He's already been at war with moderate groups in the Democratic Party, third way, one of the think tanks. They put out a statement today, I won't read it all but this essentially that blanket, debt forgiveness is bad policy and bad politics. They called it a regressive giveaway. Senator Sanders says it's progressive, they say it's regressive (INAUDIBLE) that why should people who have the money and can't pay their loans back, maybe help them get a better deal, or give -- why should they get forgiveness? KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, there's the fine tuning of that argument when you're talking about trying to tax the people who have more money and yet giving them -- again, potentially a giveaway or a gift in a way doesn't square. It also only appeals to one sub-section of the potential voting electorate. (INAUDIBLE) a big one and many people go and, you know, get college debt as their first in higher education. But as we saw, that's -- you know, Trump has better numbers when it comes to people who don't have college degrees and maybe wouldn't have that kind of debt.

So there's questions both about, is this actually benefiting the most comfortable among us and this is also ignoring an issue that appeals to people who are kind of on the lower end and more the poverty end of the middle-class spectrum. And what are -- what's his plan for that?

KING: But it is, it's an issue that's not talked about that much here in Washington. I'm one of seven children, trust me, the other six siblings since they have their children. Their children get older, this is a big deal. You know, the issue itself, whether this is the specifics, this is an issue that doesn't get talked enough about in Washington because out in America it matters.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and because it has a residual effect. If you got a student loan that you can't buy houses, you might not be having children as soon as you like to because you have all of this debt.

[12:40:03] So it really is, with a certain demographic, you know, millennials, I'm one of them, I have student loan debt. So it really -- this is targeting them.

That said, this also is a really, you know, line in the Democratic primary. Because you do have members who said we're not going to do this, it's not realistic. Someone like an Amy Klobuchar who, you know, will have a counterpoint to Bernie Sanders on the stage. I can't remember if she is on the poll with him. But eventually --

KING: But Joe Biden will be standing right next to him. Joe Biden will be standing right next to him, and you know Biden's architect is, a bright idea, too much, right?

RAJU: And look, how does that go over with those same voters that he wants to appeal to, to be more realistic or say this is not going to happen in Washington. We're going to have to cut a deal with Mitch McConnell. So that may not go over so well.

KING: It's one of the reasons you do it now if you're Bernie as you plan that fight to have that fight.

KUCINICH: And for this left idea though, whoever is the nominee is going to get tacked on to that person because that's what the Republican Party has been doing. Whatever the furthest left is, they're painting the entire field and members of Congress for that matter with that broad brush. So that's also a risk when these things are rolled out.

KING: Well, we'll see. Again, another idea, the debates are coming.

Up next, another Democratic candidate facing some trouble (INAUDIBLE) racial tension, trust issues back home in South Bend, Indiana.


[12:45:55] KING: Mayor Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to head to Florida today to prepare for the first Democratic 2020 debates. But a big controversy back home is posing a giant test to his national ambitions. Anger and mistrust in South Bend's African-American community was abundantly clear at a town hall last night as the mayor promised an independent investigation of last week's fatal shooting of a 54-year-old black man by a white police officer. Adding to the anger, the police body camera did not record that encounter.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get the racist off the streets. It's disrespectful that I wake up every day scared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You all promote the bad officers and demote the good ones. You all got racism inside your police department. How did we suppose to trust this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people in the audience when you have these public forums are the same black people but they're not invited to the table.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I want people to know that this seat at the table is waiting for you. And I would welcome more input from you on how I could do a better job and making people feel that they're actually welcome.


KING: Lincoln Wright was at that town hall last night, he's a reporter with the South Bend Tribune who covers crime and public safety, and joins us now. Lincoln, the chance where we don't trust you during that, explain to us the depth of the mayor's trust problem with his African-American community.

LINCOLN WRIGHT, CRIME AND PUBLIC SAFETY REPORTER, SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE: Yes. Unfortunately, this is not the first incident involving police that's kind of sparked outrage in the community over racial tensions. And there were people at the town hall that flat out said we don't know if we can trust you or trust the police department. That kind of spurs from our -- one of our councilwomen said she doesn't see what's being done. Every time we have one of these incidents, the same thing is being said that we're working on building the trust, building that relationship. But here we are again with the same issue.

So that just goes, they don't trust anything being done, but Mayor Pete did deny the notion that nothing is done. He has put things in place. But he did admit there's still a lot that needs to be done.

KING: As you've been covering this over the years, how the mayor was responding to this particular incident. Is it different than things in the past? The question being because he knows there are national cameras now, he's running for president. He's going to get even closer scrutiny not just at home but in national publications as well? Is he behaving differently?

WRIGHT: Well, after every incident, he does talk to the community. He does open up that dialogue, inviting people to the table. This time around, he did get in front of the community a lot faster and more often in having that big venue of a town hall yesterday. But -- so he does always have those dialogues, but you can't deny that people in our community are noticing that this time around he is running for president. But he said the chains this time is from just what he's learned over his past years as the mayor that it's better to get out in front of the community right away, even if you don't have all the answers, even if there's not a lot of information you can share, but to get out in front of the community and be transparent. And so that's what he says he's doing.

KING: His argument running for president is that America needs somebody with a small town, mid-western values who get things done as opposed to people in Washington who just talk in circles. I want to post you this question, CNN looked at some numbers, in 2014 there were 26 African-American police officers on the South Bend force, that's about percent of the force, a little higher than that. In 2019, there are 13 African-American officers, meaning it's fallen to just over five percent.

Is it fair to say -- and every big city mayor, medium size city mayor has to deal with it, is it fair to say on the issue of diversifying the police force, Mayor Pete is going in the wrong direction?

WRIGHT: Well -- I mean, you can't deny the numbers. Yes, our current police force is about five percent African-American, 88 percent white. And they're policing a South Bend community that's 26 percent African- American. So -- I mean, the numbers are there, they pretty much tell you the truth. And so Mayor Pete has said the biggest challenge facing the police department is minority recruitment. He's at this town hall yesterday said he's tried everything he can think of to fix this problem and yet nothing is still working. So -- but it goes back to that issue of trust.

[12:50:03] A man at the town hall asked Pete, how you can ask me to join your police department when I don't trust it. So again, the issue to focus on is building that trust back.

KING: Lincoln Wright, really appreciate your perspective on reporting on the scene there. It's a fascinating challenge for the mayor as a mayor and obviously as a candidate as well. I appreciate the reporting from the scene.

Dan Merica, one of our campaign reporters joins our conversation here. Here's your challenge, Dan, Pete Buttigieg has to stand on the debate stage this week. He is been making the case as I said, you know, we need a guy from small-town America who gets it. Who does it every day on the street? Both on the question of how do you build trust with a critical African-American constituency in the Democratic Party, this would seem to be a problem for the mayor that's coming at a bad time for him. Then on the bigger question, he says I get things done. You saw those numbers there, that's heading in the wrong direction. Does that countermand his argument if you will?

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: What has really worked for him on the campaign trail is that he stands out from the field. He is a mayor, most of these folks who are running are not mayors. And you need a mayor from a particularly unique city and that has worked with him especially with voters in New Hampshire and Iowa where you've seen a level of success.

This is cutting the opposite way. You know, mayors -- being a mayor has worked for him so far. He's getting the opposite end of that right now. And it is coming at a very pivotal time for his campaign and this was by far the most difficult week for his campaign to date. He expected to be fundraising in California and New York, going to South Carolina, working on building his infrastructure there.

Going to the events that we all covered, instead, he is having the biggest issue of his candidacy highlighted on the national stage and that is his ability to relate to African-American voters. He does very well in polls with white voters. He does very poorly in polls with black voters. And at events, it's very obvious especially in South Carolina where the electorate is 60 percent African-American, he isn't drawing a lot of black support in that state. And that's why this storyline is so critical to his future.

KUCINICH: Yes, the Daily Beast Hanna Trudo has a story today about talking with African-American leaders and he was asked during these private meetings who are your black supporters back home who can you name. And he couldn't give them an answer. And it was an answer that he gave to several people that she spoke to.

So that in of itself not being able to answer that question is problematic and it's making some of these folks that Hanna spoke to think that he's not serious and that he's kind of naive about his interactions with the African-American community. And this -- what's going on in South Bend is underscoring that right now.

KING: And this is what happens, a, in a long presidential race but b, in any presidential race, sometimes people come up as Mayor Pete Buttigieg did, surprised people, took that new and different, the outsider lane. And now he's got a challenge in his day job. He had just sent a campaign e-mail out to supporters today, his presidential supporters and he talks about safety and justice being inseparable. He ends it this by saying, "I'm running for president as a mayor of an American city because the toughest decisions we face locally are also important national issues."

Well -- and again, to your point about South Carolina and the Democratic primary constituency once you get out of Iowa and New Hampshire. This is an everyday life issue of African-Americans to live anywhere in America. And the question is when you see that anger in the mayor's face, from the people who know him best -- some of them, yes, they realized they have a national spotlight now but they have every right to take advantage of that national spotlight to deal with an issue in their community. It can't help him at this moment, right?

BENDER: Yes, this is a -- I mean, like Dan said, his lack of support with black voters and other -- one other critical issue, you have a mayor, can he win -- could he win governor of his own state? Could he be elected to the state Senate of his own state? And he's 30- something-years-old, 37-years-old, this just also raises the question of is he ready?

KING: Well, we will find out. Is he being tested by this? He's had a crisis back home, he's being tested. We'll see how he handles it. And maybe he'll surprise us again, keep watching.

Up next for us, the 2020 Democrats as we said preparing to meet their rivals on the debate stage.



[12:57:00] SARAH PALIN: Nice to meet you.


PALIN: Hey, can I call you Joe?


KING: That, of course, Joe Biden's most memorable debate. His face- to-face with Sarah Palin back in 2008. This week, he will share the stage with nine other Democrats and the vice president -- former vice president will be center stage because he is the frontrunner. That means he will take more heat.

But don't bet on Biden fighting fire with fire. History tells us Biden's debate MO is to make the case he is right without getting too personal with rivals who think or voted differently. A flashback here, June 2007, the issue, Biden's Democratic rivals voted no on a measure to fund the troops in Iraq.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why were Senators Obama, Clinton, Dodd, and Congressman Kucinich wrong to vote against the funding?

BIDEN: I'm not going to make a judgment why they are wrong, I'll tell you why I was right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Biden, why are you reluctant to say now they were wrong and you were right?

BIDEN: Because I don't want to judge them. I mean, these are my friends, we work like -- we've worked together, we've worked hard and try to end this war. We are people telling everybody, just stop the war, Congress. We have 50 votes. We're busting our neck every single day, so I respect them. But look, I cannot as long as there is a single troop in Iraq that I know if I take action by funding them, I increase the prospect they'll live or not be injured. I cannot and will not vote no to fund them.


KING: That was a big divide back in the day because the anti-war sentiment was so strong among the Democrats the position of the debates was, just vote no period. Biden voted yes because as he said troops were in the field. The bigger point though, he's going to take a lot of heat.

Doesn't that tell you, this is where going to stats what we're going to see (INAUDIBLE)? You know, Senator Sanders has the right idea, I disagree a little bit here and there.

RAJU: Yes, and he'll have to defend that often, make his argument, give a message about why he is running in this race, something he probably has not done as much to talk about exactly what he would do in this country, his policy ideas, his platforms. Can he fend up those fights from the left and the right, mostly from the left, of course, in this debate? But he was actually a pretty good debater back in the Democratic primary in the 2008 campaign. That's one big reason why Barack Obama picked him for his ticket because he was effective on the debate stage. His candidacy didn't catch fire in that Democratic presidential nomination but he did a pretty good job, so we'll see if his skills are --

KUCINICH: But the question is if whether he can be -- he's going to be defensive because, on the campaign trail, he's been extremely defensive. And can he, you know, transition back to who he was rather than he is right now?

DEMIRJIAN: And he's going to be center stage this time because he's the frontrunner. He's never had that mentality heading into one of these debates, at least not recently.

KING: Pressure.

BENDER: Yes. The -- I mean, you forget that these -- that you had so many candidates on stage, sort of immediately think of 2015, 2016 Republican race, and I'll, of course, make a comparison to that one. I mean, the -- what Biden's message has long been is that he's the bridge builder, right? That's what got him into trouble last week. I think that is a powerful contrast to Trump and -- when -- that could be powerful for him but the question is going to be whether or not Democrats want to see that fighter instead of a bridge builder.

KING: All right.